At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.

A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.

Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.

The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."

One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”

By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."

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Recent News: 12 String Guitars

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Church of Betty Celebrates 25 Years with New Record SWIRLED WORLD, Videos, and ...
Broadway World, July 27th

Wherever or however the groove grooves on Swirled World, there are a few constants: the first being how the sound revolves around Rael's innovative approach to the sitar and 12-string guitar, which he uses as a vessel for more pop/rock-centric songs...Read more

Summer NAMM 2015: Taylor Guitars Limited Edition Guitars — Video
Guitar World Magazine, July 27th

Next up is the 300 series limited edition 12-string guitar, with a powerful low end and shimmery top tone. Rounding out our demo is a super special guitar with a Florentine cutaway and Sitka spruce top and Tasmian Blackheart Sassafras back and sides...Read more

Reminder Tonight...Twisted Folk Concert Series Presents Väsen, with special ...
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Olov Johansson (nyckelharpa), Mikael Marin (5-string viola) and Roger Tallroth (12-string guitar) seem to possess an almost telepathic connection. In their capable hands, Sweden's native music is delivered with both ecstatic freedom and stunning precision...Read more

Crowd surrenders to the sounds of Cheap Trick
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When Rick Nielsen, the band's lead guitarist, pulled out his 12-string guitar, the crowd went crazy. When they covered Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel," the crowd swayed and danced and sang along to the all-time classic. "That's the best thing about...Read more

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Boston Globe, July 24th

He introduced Seeger to blues musician Lead Belly, who taught Seeger how to play the 12-string guitar. By 1940, Seeger made his first appearance as a folk singer at a “Grapes of Wrath” concert with Lomax, Ives, Jackson, and Guthrie. A prolific...Read more

Rory McEwen: man of many talents — and among the greatest of all flower painters, July 22nd

Not every botanical painter can count Jim Dine, Joseph Beuys and Ravi Shankar as his friends, play the 12-string guitar, shoot at Balmoral, influence Van Morrison, bolster the fortunes of the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society and drive a...Read more

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The artist's label, Viral Discs and Downloads, describes the remaining songs as “a selection of other original instrumentals that take the listener on a journey into the immense possibilities that 12-string guitar can produce when taken beyond the...Read more

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Premier Guitar, February 9th

A handful of musicians have built their careers around the 12-string guitar—Lead Belly, Leo Kottke, and Roger McGuinn come to mind—but for most guitarists, an electric or acoustic 12-string is a specialty instrument to be hauled out when a song needs...Read more